Your Boat’s Gross Load Capacity and Horsepower Recommendations

You must be aware of the federal regulations for your boat’s engine power (horsepower) and gross load capacity (maximum weight). According to federal law, motorized boats that are less than 20 feet in length must have a capacity plate in the steering or helm area. Understand that the capacity recommendations for your boat are meant for boat operation in good weather conditions.

The boat capacity plate must be permanently displayed where it is clearly in view for the operator when the boat is underway.

Note: Coast Guard statistics indicate that capsizing is a leading cause of boating-related deaths. You can prevent your boat from capsizing by understanding the recommendations on the capacity plate.

Boat Capacity Plate

Your boat’s capacity plate will include the following information:

  • The maximum passenger weight (in lbs.) and the equivalent number of adult passengers
  • The total maximum weight (in lbs.) including the gear, the engine and the total number of persons, or the total amount of passenger weight
  • The recommended maximum horsepower capacity


Person Capacity    

Boat overloaded with people and equipment                                          

Some capacity plates will tell you the maximum number of people that can safely be carried on your boat. Use this information as a guideline only. The manufacturer calculates the information under the assumption that an average person’s weight is 185 lbs. However, because the individual weight of your passengers may vary, the ‘number of persons’ suggestion should remain flexible in order to keep the water below the waterline!


Determining Your Boat’s Capacities

For mono-hulled boats that are less than 20 feet in length, boaters can use the following equation to calculate the number of persons that their boat can safely carry in good weather conditions: Boat length (ft.) x boat width (ft.) / 15 = number of people

Boat capacity for different boat types and sizes



Personal Watercraft Capacities

PWCs are a different type of boat and the acceptable loads they can carry are measured differently. Acceptable loading information will depend on the size of the PWC. If there isn’t a capacity plate, make sure you reference the state laws and the manufacturer’s information in the owner’s manual.